Erin Kerpel 5:20
Thank you. And I think one of the things that has stuck out the most in terms of what our kids have come to realize, and by our kids, I mean, the teens and all the kids that participate in our events, right, is they don’t have to go very far to find significant need. They don’t have to travel to another country, they don’t have to go to the city. There’s significant need, you know, 15 or 20 minutes from where they live, which I don’t think many of them knew prior to starting with
Dr. Leigh Weisz 5:45
us Oh, wow. No, it’s really eye opening to see, you know, what, what they can do within their own community even? Yeah, wow. Um, so what were the early days of Gratitude Generation, like, and maybe the first events that you guys did?
Nicki Sutherland 6:02
Yeah, the early days were, I mean, still are a lot of literal sweat. Word, and talking all the time to each other to try to figure out how to do this. I mean, literally, it was started from reading a book, How to start a nonprofit and following the directions. And it’s been, you know, it existed out of our homes and our garages, and we took up closets and our husbands, you know, we’re tried to be patient with us. And we now are in our own space here for the past year, and are so grateful to have this opportunity to, you know, give back and even a bigger way now, and have more options because of the space that we have. So things have changed a lot. Because back in the beginning, Erin was having to find all kinds of places where we could do events, and where we could do you know, things where we would pack things for others or what have you. And you know, when we were working just really on our own funds. It was very, very hard.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 7:10
Right? Right. No, that’s, it’s amazing. And what year did it start in?
Erin Kerpel 7:15
We started in 2018. So we are at we have hit our five year mark. Yeah, so exciting, have grown tremendously. It seems
Dr. Leigh Weisz 7:24
like it. Yeah. You know, as a psychologist, I often recommend that one of the ways people can cultivate gratitude for the blessings they have is to volunteer. So it’s wonderful to see that you guys have made it much easier for people to find, right, like you said, in their backyard ways to volunteer in small ways or in big ways. I know that events kind of range. Can you give an example of an event? You know, again, no matter how small or big where you’ve seen the impact on the, on the giver on the volunteer?
Erin Kerpel 8:00
Yeah, I mean, I can talk about the program that we’re in the middle of right now Valentine’s meals for veterans. That came from our team board. The first event that we did for veterans was an idea from our teen board, one of our first team boards many years ago, and they did it surrounding Thanksgiving. So they held a big event, and they provided Thanksgiving meals, to 50 or 60 people on active duty and it was wonderful and heartwarming, and really seemed to resonate with both the givers and the recipients. And so we wanted to maintain that program. And what we came to learn was that, like many other communities in need, veterans are fairly well taken care of around Thanksgiving and the winter holidays. But come January and February, the food pantries, a lot of a lot of them are empty, and there’s much less support. So we modified their program a little bit and turned it into Valentine’s meals for the veterans. And the amount that this program has grown every year is just unbelievable. Last year, we hit our goal for the first time which was providing meals for 550 veterans or people on active duty. And it was wonderful that we were able to hit that goal, which was basically everything that the organization all the all the people that the organization supports, we were able to provide a meal for. This year. We’re surpassing that goal by hundreds and seeing the different groups in the different communities whether it’s Girl Scouts, donating cookies, schools, working as a school or individual classrooms to make cards and provide their own meals. individual families like the amount of different groups and communities and families that participate in this program is unbelievable. All. And we have come to get to know a lot of the veterans that are recipients for the meals and hearing their stories, and hearing how much this impacts them. And you know how much they appreciate the thought and the time and the effort that is put into this program. It’s just really, it’s really neat to see the whole for the full circle.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 10:22
Oh, my gosh, it’s so it’s so inspiring to hear that you’re, again, teaching these kids to identify a need, you know, like, I love that because it’s, of course, it’s true that we know, the Thanksgiving and you know, Christmas time are times where probably everyone’s trying to think about things they can do to give back. But there are obviously months where the food pantries are really struggling more. But it’s so cool that you teach them how to identify a need, and that there is power in in groups, right and numbers to come together and really make this happen. Right? It’s truly inspiring. Yeah, you have, I don’t know if it’s like with your own families or with some of these team groups, but have you heard them, the kids in the team sort of say, you know, what it means to them? You know, have you heard their story at the end of the day?
Erin Kerpel 11:14
Yeah, especially from the team board, I feel like that’s where we get the most feedback. Kids that have been on the team board since since we started, you know, some have been on it for five years, and seeing them change and seeing, you know, everything that they have been exposed to now that they would not have been exposed to one of our past team board presidents actually decided to go into nonprofit, like, she’s in college now. And that’s what she wants to do with her life. So seeing the impact that we’re having on these kids and showing them what, like you’re saying what the needs are and how they can improve and, you know, make a difference in somebody’s life. Right?
Dr. Leigh Weisz 11:56
Right, and how it spirals in such a positive direction. Ya know, I think about, you know, social media, and I think about just how teens these days are very, they tend to be self focused in general, right, just developmentally, not their fault. And then with tic tac, and with, you know, Instagram, and just all these, you know, they’re all taking selfies, it’s, it’s a self focused time. And I think about how sometimes these teens think about what they’re lacking relative to their peers, and even adults, right, when we’re scrolling mindlessly on Facebook, or something like that, can see the luxurious vacation that their friends had and start to go, I wish I had that, right. It’s natural. But we know that comparing doesn’t do good, right for, for mood, and for how we’re feeling about ourselves. And so it’s just, it’s really nice to think about them, not just thinking about what they’re lacking, but really getting outside of their bubble and, and thinking about what they actually do have and how they can help others who really do need it more and really are lacking in some of the, like you said, the basic needs. It’s interesting, there’s a lot of research with older adults about how volunteering reduces depression and provides adults with a sense of purpose, but I think it helps with all ages. So I was just curious if you kind of have witnessed that too.
Erin Kerpel 13:18
Yeah, 100%, I think there’s so many different kids, adults, I mean, just even myself, I mean, starting Gratitude Generation helped me out of you know, a bit of depression that I was in. And so being able to give back to others is huge, and then giving back to others. Through everything that we did after the fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, we really put on a lot of different events, and did this very big series of just healing through gratitude and came together. And I mean, within a little over a week, we saw about 500 volunteers that, you know, helped us in various different ways, and all the different things that we were doing, and every single person was coming up to us and was so grateful for just having a place to go a place that they could feel like they were doing something to help, you know, because obviously, the event was so traumatic to even people that weren’t there. And everyone
Dr. Leigh Weisz 14:20
really paralyzed like that. Yes. Yeah, it sounds like you gave them permission to do something with that feeling instead of just sitting with it. Yeah.
Erin Kerpel 14:27
And that we make it open for even kids to come, you know, parents or even adults older, you know, younger, whatever, everybody’s welcome with or without kids, to volunteer with us. But you know, being a place where even the youngest can come in and participate is a very unique, you know, opportunity. And the whole reason that we started this, so, you know, having that opportunity so that parents had something I mean, there were people that drove up to an hour away, to come to our volunteer events and to help out to her all of that had happened. So it was amazing. And we were able to really be together as a community, our volunteers giving back and healing together.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 15:10
And just being together part, acting in a time of trauma, I’m sure by itself was healing. And then like you have the added layer of you’re actually doing something again, to, to feel a little bit more in control. At a time where it was, it was pretty, pretty awful. What were some of the events or some of the things that you did during that time? Yeah.
Erin Kerpel 15:36
So one of the things that we did was we started painting kindness rocks, that we had just intended to put around different Highland different parks in Highland Park and put them in the beach and have volunteers go spread them around to brighten the residents days that live in Highland Park, the amount of people that wanted to do wanted to paint these racks and create racks on their own create racks here with us. We had hundreds we had 1000s, I don’t even know how many racks we had. But way more than we could sprinkle at a few parks and on the beach. And so we now actually have a permanent kindness record and downtown Highland Park. So it’s filled with all the rocks that were created here. And it’s meant to be interactive, so people can go at any point and take a rock or leave New rocks. So that was that was something completely unexpected for me, I thought, you know, we’d have 50, maybe 100 racks that we’d sprinkle around. And people really enjoyed that, that opportunity. And then the other really big one was we provided thank you gifts for all of the surrounding firefighter, firefighters, police officers, health care workers, we ended up doing something also for Highland Park also. But we really wanted to thank all the surrounding communities that came in to support Highland Park in the weeks to follow, you know that day and in the weeks to follow. So we provided, I can’t even remember how many it was right now. But 1000 Plus gifts to different different police officers and firefighters. So those are the volunteers helped assemble everything and deliver them and we get donations from different companies that help support that program. So
that was great, and a massive effort that it took from so many volunteers to not just pack them, but yet to organize them here at the office into piles and to make sure we were taking them, you know, out to all the different communities that weren’t even necessarily just down the road. So people drove them all over the place.
And then the feedback that we got the thank you cards that we got from the recipients, you know, talking about how grateful they were to receive receive the recognition and the thank you and to know that someone you know, was noticing what they were doing and the effort that they were putting in.
Right. Right. Yeah, yeah. I mean, the gratitude that we got back is just so Wait, we’re grateful for them. They were grateful for us. And maybe one particular police officer reached out to me and said that he had come to work that evening on the night shift. And he was really depressed about his job and wondering why he was doing it. And he came in and there were water bottles and treats left. And he said the first thing was, he’s like, there’s nothing ever left for the night shift. When people come in. He’s like, the day shift takes what they take. And he’s like, there’s nothing there. Everything laughs He’s like, not only that he’s like, and then I opened it up, and there’s a personal thank you card in it. He’s like, it just made my night. He’s like, I put that thank you card on my desk. And he’s like, I’m going to remind myself of how much I’m appreciated. Like, it was everything to hear that
Dr. Leigh Weisz 18:51
it’s so touching. And you know, again, I’m sure in the day to day these these professionals are burnt out, right. Yeah, they are. They are depressed and, and having someone recognize them and appreciate them and, and be grateful for the work that they’re doing to serve the community has to mean the world to them. And like you said, keep them going. Yeah, there’s a book that I read with little kids about how to fill how to fill your bucket. Yeah, never heard of them. But and it just reminds me what you’re describing reminds me of that. Because, right. Anytime you do something nice to someone else, or for someone else, it’s not that you’re doing it in order to receive something back. That shouldn’t be the goal. Exactly. Guess what happens, right? You do something kind of to others and it spreads. And it’s truly a remarkable thing. And it sounds like that’s what you’re saying like these rocks. Well, did they spread right in in such a positive such a positive way that you’re spreading good?
Erin Kerpel 19:50
Yeah. Wow. And Mark Well, I mean, that’s the difference with you know, when you say somebody is grateful or you’re thankful, right, gratitude is something that you can spread and that keeps going around and when somebody is affected by it, they in turn put it towards somebody else. And it just keeps going and keeps growing, which makes it you know that much more special,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 20:09
incredible. And especially this this young adult that you’re describing who, who now is probably going to devote her her professional future right in carrying on a nonprofit. Pretty, pretty amazing. What What would you say, in your personal lives or in your past professional lives? Because both of you have had related careers? It sounds like what are things that you’ve done habits to, again, to to always have gratitude and spread kindness, things like that, and promote these messages? Because I don’t think this is a coincidence that you were both the ones to spearhead this.
Erin Kerpel 20:50
Yeah, I mean, personally, I worked with teenagers for 11 years in the high school setting, and I was talking about service to them. And the teenagers I worked with thought that that meant community service. So different. And so I was always trying to explain that. But you know, I’ve always been somebody that’s wanted to give back. And, you know, I, one of the teenagers I’ve worked with is now my daughter. So you know, that’s just a whole other story and just explains a little bit about who I am. But, ya know, this is always it’s always been a dream of mine to start a nonprofit to and be able to give back and even another bigger way and serve the community. So
incredible. And for me, I’ve always been, I’ve always been involved in stuff since high school, you know, giving back I never dreamed of starting a nonprofit, I never thought this was where I would end up. But like you said, I think just like minded people coming together. It’s definitely been a whirlwind. And you know, like Nicki said earlier, none of us knew each other starting this. So it’s crazy to think that five people who didn’t know each other prior to coming together from this Facebook post, we’re able to meet and balance each other so well and support each other and create great Gratitude Generation.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 22:16
Well, and and do you find that the kids in the teens like you’re describing these boards? Are they finding friendship in in the group? Like, what are you noticing in terms of other benefits to them?
Erin Kerpel 22:28
Yeah, we’ve specifically had one teen board member who she’s been struggling in her school setting, but Gratitude Generation has been a real great outlet for her. And, you know, it’s always so welcoming, and so loving. And her mom specifically said that to us. And, you know, there’s just, they’re just such great kids, and you’re coming together to do good together. So it’s just just a great feeling a great place to be. So that outlet, even when you’re struggling in another setting is I think, yeah, especially amazing for teenagers going through that, for sure.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 23:01
And like they’re they’re bonding over a similar shared interest. Yeah. It just seems like such a neat, such a neat opportunity for connection, you know, amongst amongst these different age groups, too. And even for older kids and younger kids to be able to connect, because again, it sounds like all ages are really coming together for this purpose. Oh, nice.
Erin Kerpel 23:23
Yeah. I mean, we really can have five year olds and you know, teenagers working together on the exact same project, and we figure it out, we make it work,
Dr. Leigh Weisz 23:32
incredible. And again, such such good opportunities for leadership and for role models, who are again, you know, modeling such wonderful, wonderful qualities that we hope all our kids will adopt, what is coming up in the near future for you guys, what events what things can people look out for and sign up for?
Erin Kerpel 23:54
Yeah, I mean, we have always a lot of volunteer events on our calendar. And our calendar on our website is welcome for anyone to volunteer of any age. You know, we do have some events where we have to put you know, an age minimum on it. But we try to make them open to everyone as much as possible. And you just sign up and you show up. It’s really that easy for any of our volunteer events on our website. And we have our giant fundraiser coming up in two weeks from today. There are six days left to buy tickets for that we are having our fifth year anniversary benefit. And it’s going to just be a really fun night celebrating how much we’ve done over the last five years.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 24:35
A wonderful to have a celebration because you definitely deserve everyone again from from someone who’s gone to one event to someone who’s started it really should, should take back and what they’ve
Erin Kerpel 24:46
created. Yes, it’s really taken a giant community of people, not just the original five of us. I mean, we have what would you say like 24 Chair people, at least on our website, at least, they run on different programs for us from stuff as little as like collecting for our mac and cheese drive to like running all of our pads stuff. You know, we do those on Sundays. And we have amazing, amazing community of volunteers who has made this possible.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 25:17
Incredible. I’m so glad that you have that coming up. That’s really really exciting. Any other Silla 60s left if people want to go to your website and sign up for that. Any other volunteering events kind of coming up in the next month?
Erin Kerpel 25:33
Yeah, we have lots of different events coming up, remembering them as the hard part.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 25:38
You gotta go to the calendar. Yes, this weekend we
Erin Kerpel 25:41
are packed with. We have a kindness rock decorating, we are kindness rack chair is very skilled at decorating racks, and has different techniques. So she is teaching different techniques for Valentine’s Day. So there’ll be decorating Valentine tracks, and some will be added to our our kindness record. And then Sunday is filled with Valentine’s meals for the veterans festivities. So from 10 in the morning, until four o’clock in the afternoon, we’ll be busy with that program. We support Northern Illinois Food Bank once a month. So we go there and help distribute food. So that’s actually this afternoon, we have that. Like Nicki said, we do pads events once a month, where we’re putting together care packs that are given to some of the shelters to distribute, and we set up the beds and help with the dining. So yeah, we constantly have all different, all different events that are supporting all different areas of need. So
I’d say our biggest one that is coming up, but it just feels so far away. As always, we do our school supply path packing program in the summer. And it takes a huge amount of from our community to because for most of our big events, we not only do it where we purchase the supplies, and we have people come in and pack them together. But also, we put it out to the community where people can sign up to sponsor a student. And they can take their kids to the store or they just you know can go on their own and they fill the bags with all the supplies that are needed. And then they just drop it off at one of our community drop off locations, we have drop off locations in at least 10 different communities. So we make it really open. And that takes a lot of help from the community to make that. How many hundreds of backpacks do we
do every year? 400? At least we’ll do this year.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 27:32
Oh my goodness. Yeah.
Erin Kerpel 27:34
And we pack them with every single thing the kid needs for school.
Dr. Leigh Weisz 27:39
Incredible. Oh, my goodness, I love it. I love it. Well, I know again, one of my exercises that I do with kids in therapy is we talk about at the end of each night, you know, just having a little notepad by your bedside and jotting down three things that you’re grateful for, which really does again, help with mood. And I know for me, I’m going to tonight, on my last day, I’m very grateful to have had this conversation and to be able to let folks know that the good work you’re doing, it’s really inspiring. So thank you so much. And you can learn about all of their future events and how to get involved by going to gratitudegeneration.org and please check out more pad more episodes of our podcast by going to copingpartners.com and clicking on podcasts and articles. Thank you both so much for being here today. Thank you.
Nicki Sutherland 28:39
Thank you for having us.
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